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May 9, 2000 GC-044

United Methodists denounce ‘Chief Wahoo’ as demeaning

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — Delegates at the United Methodist Church’s top legislative gathering attacked "Chief Wahoo," mascot of the host city’s baseball team, calling the popular caricature demeaning to Native Americans.

With a 610-293 vote and no debate, delegates to the General Conference approved a resolution May 9 denouncing any organization or team using "offensive racist logos." In particular, they cited the Cleveland Indians’ use of the Chief Wahoo team mascot, saying it demeans and diminishes Native Americans by denying them recognition as human beings.

The General Conference is the only body which can speak officially for the entire church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. At the 1996 General Conference in Denver delegates denounced teams that use "offensive racist logos." Delegates at the 2000 conference said the use of negative and "denigrating images" increases the struggles of young Native Americans and prohibits development of the strong self-esteem needed to compete in society.

"The Chief Wahoo mascot increases the isolation, confusion and hostility which are expressed so graphically by the statistical records of such social dysfunction as alcoholism, school drop-out rates, teen suicide and violence, and family disintegration among Native Americans," the approved resolution stated.

The controversy about Chief Wahoo has also affected other minority groups in their struggles for equality and respect for their traditional values and customs, according to the resolution. The denomination has 8.4 million members in the United States, including about 19,000 Native Americans. Thirteen of the 992 delegates to the Cleveland conference are Native Americans.

Delegates called on the United Methodist Church to direct appropriate church agencies, in consultation with Native American groups, to engage the Cleveland Indian community and the baseball team’s owners in a dialogue to increase understanding and sensitivity about demeaning ethnic caricatures and mascots.

The problem will be highlighted May 11, when local Native Americans and those attending General Conference join in a protest directed at the Cleveland Indians. The team plays its next home game that day.

A related petition, which delegates will address before May 12, directs that the General Conference not be held in cities that have Native Americans as sports mascots.

In other business, delegates have supported establishing a Native American forum for the general church. The delegates requested that the General Council on Ministries, the programming agency of the denomination, maintain a "common table" to increase the visibility and connect Native American ministries with churchwide agencies. The delegates hope that a forum of this sort will provide an opportunity for "spiritual discernment, collegiality and cooperation" for Native American ministries in the new millennium.

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--Linda Green

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